The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Unnecessary Discrimination

Your beliefs often limit you and can also cause you to limit others. Therefore, you should always try and keep an open mind so as not to end up fulfilling your own prophecies.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Unnecessary Discrimination
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

The self-fulfilling prophecy is one of the most interesting phenomena in social psychology. In fact, the power that your expectations have over reality has been amply demonstrated in extremely diverse contexts. Indeed, what you think about yourself, others, and the world conditions you to such an extent that your assumptions usually end up coming true.

The self-fulfilling prophecy is the name given in psychology to the evidence that holding a false belief leads, directly or indirectly, to its own fulfillment. There are mainly three elements involved in this process. These are the false belief held, the actions that follow from this belief, and the consequences of those actions.

How does the self-fulfilling prophecy work?

This process isn’t only activated by the beliefs you have about others, but also your assumptions about yourself or about specific events. Here are some examples:

  • You have a preconceived idea that you’re not going to like a particular person. Based on these thoughts, you behave, unconsciously, in a cold and abrupt manner toward them. They’ll then respond to you in the same way. Hence, your belief that they’re unpleasant is verified.
Boy thinking, depicting the self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • You think you won’t be able to learn to drive. Due to your belief, you face the experience with anxiety and little motivation. The result is that your performance is lousy and you confirm your supposed inability.
  • You’re convinced that your marriage will fail. Therefore, you act toward your partner with distrust, fear, and reproaches. The marriage ends, but it does so because of your own actions and not because it was really meant to be.

Self-fulfilling prophecy and prejudice

Prejudice is a preconceived opinion, a negative judgment that’s made about someone without there being sufficient information to do so. It’s generally based on stereotypes. Stereotypes help you organize reality in a simplified way that allows you to deal with it more easily. However, they also often lead you to unreasonably discriminate. These prejudices are the basis of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Beliefs related to other people are extremely susceptible to influence. One of the most extensively researched areas in this respect is the educational field. In fact, research has shown that those children considered more intelligent and capable by their teachers end up performing better academically.

However, this success isn’t due to the exceptional qualities of the student, but to the behavior that the teacher sets in motion due to their beliefs. Therefore, the learning opportunities and intellectual challenges offered to children considered more capable are greater. It’s this that leads them to greater academic development.

self-fulfilling prophecy

The basis of discrimination

This effect can also be extrapolated to many other situations in life. For example, when a mother considers her child to be disobedient, she’ll approach them with little patience and tolerance, leading the child to be uncooperative. The little one will disobey, but because of their mother’s attitude.

Or, if a boss considers an employee to be unqualified, they won’t give them any support or opportunities to prove themselves. In this way, their belief that they’re a poor worker will be confirmed and the cycle is perpetuated.

There are many groups affected by this phenomenon . Indeed, stereotypes lead to certain people being considered either more or less valid for certain tasks. For this reason, they’re given unequal opportunities and support. This leads them to confirm their belief that they’re worthless.

Women, immigrants, and other minorities are affected by these beliefs on a daily basis. Even men find this barrier in certain professions and tasks that tend to be considered feminine.

This is why it’s essential that action is taken on these preconceived ideas. Nothing should be taken for granted without it first being verified. Otherwise, people will be judged unfairly and may even find doors closing in their faces.

Furthermore, you should take care of the beliefs you hold about yourself. Your actions should always be in tune with your beliefs. Try to keep an open, flexible and objective mind. Finally, always remember that, whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re probably right.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Castro, D. V. (2016). Profecía autocumplida o los dos tiempos de la verdad. Desde el jardín de Freud: revista de psicoanálisis, (16), 63-76.

  • Rosenthal, R. (2010). Pygmalion effect. The Corsini encyclopedia of psychology, 1-2.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.